Vieux Carré

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© Tim Medley
Tom Ross Williams (Writer) David Whitworth (Nightingale)

It was 40 years before Tennessee Williams completed the flawed and fragmented memoir of his time in New Orleans which he began in 1938, and it has been almost as long again since 'Vieux Carré' was last seen in London.

It was tossed into the wastebin of history with the rest of Williams's late plays, but there is enough that is brave, thoughtful and raucously obscene to make this revival essential for fans of his greater works.

In a loose-knit non-narrative, we meet a young writer holed up in a mildewed boarding house in the bohemian quarter of New Orleans. He is coming to terms with his homosexuality and watching the strange, dilapidated residents on their various paths to madness and disintegration.

'Writers are shameless spies,' he confesses, and, similarly, 'Vieux Carré' is like a glance at Williams's own raw reportage. Such pure emotional espionage could be mistaken for a work in progress, but as the slack dramatic structure attests, his real work was long since over.

Robert Chevara directs an excellent cast: David Whitworth is stunning as ageing artist Nightingale, and Nancy Crane excels as motherly Mrs Wire, but they struggle against an unhelpful design by Nicolai Hart-Hansen, which sees them tiptoeing over pots, pans, beds and blankets.

Williams frustrated his critics by refusing to burn out, and while the brilliance of 'Vieux Carré' is faded, it's a play riven with the honesty of a writer who has nothing left to prove.

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